When Shaquille O`Neal retired from the NBA in 2011, he was the last of the league's truly dominant centers. Along with Shaq, many of his forebears and contemporaries at center played the position differently than how it is commonly played today. Before the league shifted to a guard-oriented, fast-break style of play, centers preferred to setup on the block and dominate defenders with their backs to the basket.
In stark comparison, today's centers are more mobile than their antecedents, playing farther away from the paint and facing up to the basket more than ever. Many centers have developed good mid-range games and play vital roles in pick-and-roll offences. A player like Chris Bosh, who has shifted from power forward to center, highlights the changing role that centers play, as he makes up for what he lacks in size with speed and a good shooting touch.
Though the center's role has changed in today's guard-dominated league, experts routinely cite a team's strength at the center position as the most important piece to winning a championship. The Mavericks could not have won their championship in 2011 without Tyson Chandler's defensive abilities. Because of Roy Hibbert, the Pacers seem to be the only team able to knock the Heat out of the playoffs. All this to say, a competitive team needs a good center
This list looks at the top ten highest-paid centers in the NBA. The players on this list, and the differences among them, reflect the ways in which the role of the center has changed and developed. (Note: Dwight Howard is not on this list because he is listed as a power forward).
10 Nikola Pekovic - Minnesota Timberwolves - $12,100,000 in 2013-14
Nikola Pekovic is having an incredible offensive year. Undoubtedly boosted by Kevin Love's MVP-caliber play, Pekovic is averaging over eighteen points and nine rebounds per game. Minnesota, though, has a losing record, as the team struggles to keep up with the powerhouses in the Western Conference. Despite his good offensive production, and with the ascension of Kevin Martin, Pekovic's team needs him more on defense than they do on offense. Ronny Turiaf currently averages more blocks per game than Pekovic. As his team ranks 25th in the league in points allowed per game, Pekovic has to improve defensively, if Minnesota is going to have any success in the West.
9 Andrew Bynum - Free Agent - $12,250,000 in 2013-14
After winning two championships with the Lakers, experts considered Andrew Bynum to be one of the league's best centers. Since leaving Los Angeles, though, Bynum has been a shadow of his former self. He sat out the entire 2012-2013 season before signing a contract with Cleveland this offseason. In Cleveland, Bynum did not put up good numbers or justify his contract. Compounding the situation, the team suspended him for poor behaviour. Bynum, having been traded to the Bulls and subsequently waived, has a lot of work to do, if he wants to prove his detractors wrong.
8 Al Jefferson - Charlotte Bobcats - $13,500,000 in 2013-14
One of the last players to make the jump from high school to the NBA, Al Jefferson is both young and experienced. Jefferson has surprisingly bounced around in the NBA, now playing on his fourth team. In Charlotte, Jefferson anchors a team full of inexperienced players. He is averaging 17.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, both stats above his career averages. Though Charlotte continues to lose, the Eastern Conference is weak. If the team starts to coalesce and Jefferson keeps improving, Charlotte can climb the conference standings. As it stands, Jefferson has proven thus far that he is worth his contract.
7 Andrew Bogut - Golden State Warriors - $14,000,000 in 2013-14
6 Tyson Chandler - New York Knicks - $14,100,538 in 2013-14
Unfortunately for fans in New York, injuries have derailed Tyson Chandler’s season thus far. A formidable defensive presence, Chandler earns his money in the paint, blocking shots and keeping talented slashers away from the rim. Chandler's role on the Knicks cannot be overstated, as the team has played poorly this season with him out of the lineup. He has never been a threat on the offensive end, but experts routinely cite his defensive prowess as a major factor in Dallas's championship run in 2011. If Chandler can stay healthy, the Knicks have a shot at making it past the first-round of the playoffs this season.
5 Roy Hibbert - Indiana Pacers - $14,238,844 in 2013-14
Roy Hibbert is the biggest obstacle (literally) standing between the Heat and their third consecutive championship. Along with teammate Paul George, Hibbert leads a battle-tested Pacers squad that looks poised for another run in the playoffs. Making his first All-Star appearance last season, Hibbert has officially arrived, proving himself as one of the NBA's most dominant big men. However, though he physically reminds one of Shaq, Hibbert's greatest asset is his defensive ability. Blocking shots and disrupting opposing offences, Hibbert earns his money on defense. If he continues to improve his touch around the rim, Hibbert's future—he is only 27—looks promising.
4 Emeka Okafor - Phoenix Suns - $14,487,500 in 2013-14
Emeka Okafor's stats have declined each year since his rookie season. At 6'10", 250 pounds, he is small for an NBA center, elucidating how the position has changed in recent years. A former standout at UConn, Okafor has not played this season for Phoenix, as he has suffered from a herniated disk in his neck. It is likely that when Okafor’s contract expires, teams will not offer him the same level of money as he's getting in his current contract. His production, even when he has been healthy, has not warranted his deal. Hopefully, he can make a full recovery and have several productive years to close out his career.
3 Marc Gasol - Memphis Grizzlies - $14,860,523 in 2013-14
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol is a defensive stalwart for Memphis. He earns his money on the offensive end of the floor, too, averaging 14.1 points per game last season on a strong Memphis squad. Unfortunately, injuries have hampered his season, and Memphis is struggling. If Gasol can return to form, the team can make a push for the playoffs. In any case, Gasol is one of the league's premier centers.
2 Chris Bosh - Miami Heat - $19, 067, 500 in 2013-14
Though his teammates Lebron James and Dwyane Wade get most of the media`s attention, Chris Bosh remains one of the pivotal pieces on a Miami squad that looks to win its third consecutive championship. This season, his offensive numbers are the lowest they have been since his rookie season, but Miami will have no trouble making the playoffs, and experts and fans alike will continue to measure Bosh by his success in the postseason. Bosh is overpaid in comparison to other centers in the league, but with James and Wade, Miami is not ruing its decision to sign Bosh to a lucrative contract.
1 Pau Gasol - Los Angeles Lakers - $19,285,850 in 2013-14
After a rough 2012-2013 season, Pau Gasol has returned to form this year, averaging 16 points and 9.7 rebounds per game thus far. However, he has been without pivotal teammate Kobe Bryant, and the team holds the worst record in the Pacific division. Gasol can still play, but the size of his contract continually prompts experts to speculate on when the Lakers will trade him. If they hold on to Gasol, the rest of the team improves, and if Kobe makes a full recovery, the Lakers can put up a fight in the playoffs. That is a lot of “ifs”, though.